Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

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Arrangement in Black: Reading


  • By 1905: Alexander Henderson (dates unknown) .
  • Date unknown: Andrew Laird (dates unknown) .
  • 1930: at auction, Edmiston's, Glasgow, 12 June 1930, as 'Arrangement in Black', 9 ½ x 7", and sold for £235.0.0 (according to Art Prices Current, vol. 9, 1929-1930, #9306).
  • Date unknown: David William Traill Cargill (1872-1939) , Lanark;
  • 1939: bequeathed to his widow, Berthe Josephine Chopier (Mrs D. W. T. Cargill) (d. 1947) , who died in Worthing;
  • 1947: sold at auction, Christie's, London, 2 May 1947 (lot 45), bought by Colnaghi, London dealers, for £105 (Colnaghi #A2342);
  • 1947/1949: sold by Colnaghi's to Leggatt, London art dealers;
  • 1949: sold by them to W. S. Robinson (dates unknown) .
  • 1958: sold at auction, Sotheby's, London, 3 December 1958 (lot 89) as 'Arrangement in black: a young woman' and bought by Tooth, London dealers;
  • 1960: sold by Tooth in May 1960 to Julius H. Weitzner (1896-1986) , art dealer, London and New York;
  • 1960: bought from Lawrence A. Fleischman (ca 1926-d. 1997) , art dealer, Detroit, in October 1960, by Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York;
  • 1960: sold by Hirschl & Adler to Charles Kohlmeyer (1909-1988) (1909-1988), New Orleans;
  • 1988: bequeathed to his widow, Janet Lauer Kohlmeyer (1910-1991) , Metairie, New Orleans;
  • 1991: sold at auction, Christie's, New York, 22 May 1991 (lot 245), bought by Jim and Gina Liautaud.

It was lent by 'Alexander Henderson' to the Whistler Memorial show in London 1905 (cat. no. 71). It is just possible he was Sir Alexander Henderson, 1st Baron Faringdon (1850-1934), but the name is a fairly common one.

There is a gap in the known provenance from 1905 to 1930. It is likely that during this period it was in Scotland, probably Glasgow.

According to dealers' records, a label on the back stated that it was once in the collection of Andrew Laird. Again it is a common name. There are, for instance, three Andrew Lairds in the Glasgow postal directory between 1914 and 1935, a manufacturer with works in Govan, a painter and decorator, and a civil engineer.

It is not known, however, when it was the collection of Henderson or Laird, nor when Cargill acquired it.

The portrait was sold at Christie's, 2 May 1947 (lot 45) after the death of Cargill's widow, and was bought by Colnaghi's for £105. They sold it to Leggatt Bros. who sold it in August 1949 to W. S. Robinson. According to a label on the back, he lent it to the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (but no catalogue has been traced). It went to Sotheby's again, on 3 December 1958 (lot 89) and was bought by the art dealers, Tooth, for £550. Thence it went in May 1960 to Weitzner, in October to Fleischman, and in November was sold by Hirschl & Adler to Charles Kohlmeyer, New Orleans. The subsequent provenance is straightforward.


  • 1884: 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884 (cat. no. 26) as 'Arrangement in black – Reading'.
  • 1884: Annual Exhibition of Sketches, Pictures & Photography: A Loan Collection of Pictures by Mr Whistler ..., Dublin Sketching Club, Dublin, 1884 (cat. no. 254).
  • 1887: probably 64th Annual Exhibition, Royal Society of British Artists, London, 1887, either as (cat. no. 155) 'Note in black: Reading' or (cat. no. 25) as 'Note in Black' (see No. 223).
  • 1888: III. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, Königlicher Glaspalast, Munich, 1888 (cat. no. 59) as 'Eine schwarze Stimmung'.
  • 1889: “Notes” – “Harmonies” – “Nocturnes”, H. Wunderlich & Co., New York, 1889 (cat. no. 25) as 'Arrangement in Black – Reading'.
  • 1905: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the late James McNeill Whistler, First President of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, New Gallery, Regent Street, London, 1905 (cat. no. 71) as 'An arrangement in Black'.

Rarely mentioned in the press, it nevertheless was among works praised by the Dublin Daily Express in 1884 as affording 'a clear insight as to the undoubted ability Mr Whistler possesses as a figure painter.' 1

It was priced at £105 in 1887. In Munich in 1888 (cat. no. 59) it was exhibited as 'Eine schwarze Stimmung' but it was called 'Note noir – La liseuse' for Wunderlich's, and priced at 120 guineas. 2 At Wunderlich's in 1889 it was described by a journalist as 'a woman reading, dimly perceived against the black ground, but yet revealing all the modelling of her face, which is so ugly as to be interesting.' 3 It remained unsold and was returned to Whistler after the exhibition by Wunderlich's on the SS Servia. 4


1: Anon., 'The Private View at the Dublin Sketching Club', Dublin Daily Express, Dublin, 1 December 1884, p. 5.

2: G. Dieterlen, H. Wunderlich & Co., to Whistler, 1 November 1889, GUW #07187

3: Evening Sun, New York, 16 March 1889. Press cutting collected by Whistler, in GUL Whistler PC 11, p. 12. Myers 2003 [more] , p. 89.

4: G. Dieterlen, H. Wunderlich & Co., to Whistler, 1 November 1889, GUW #07187.

Last updated: 28th May 2021 by Margaret